In Check

by K'Sal



"Kiss me," Kirk said again. Spock eyed his commanding officer in wary disbelief. Being subjected to Kirk's improbable psychological tactics was not new to him - but this was surely beyond acceptable limits?

"That appears to be something of a non-sequitur, Captain. We were discussing the Melkotians, and our liason mission to recover the missing Vulcan vessel."

Kirk responded with illogical, very human arrogance. "No, we weren't discussing the Melkotians. We weren't discussing the fact that the Enterprise, as the only ship to make successful contact with the Melkotians, was requested to negotiate for the return of the cruiser - after the Vulcans failed. We weren't discussing the fifteen Vulcans trapped down there - presumed dead, but according to the Melkotians, still alive. We weren't discussing your irritation that I beamed down to negotiate - alone. Even though it was *extremely* logical, Mr. Spock. The Vulcans had already failed, so why not try a human? We weren't discussing the fact that the Melkotians informed me that the Vulcans on the surface were still alive during our mental dialogue, but that they were still 'fixing' them. We weren't discussing the Melkotian promise to return the Vulcans in approximately two planetary rotations. We weren't discussing the fact that the Enterprise and the ShiKahr are stuck here for the next week, waiting. We weren't discussing what use we should make of this unexpected layover."

"We weren't *discussing* anything at all, Spock! You were insisting," Kirk aimed a stubborn glare at Spock, "insisting, that I mind meld with you so you could see what happened down there."

"I do not see what an invitation to inappropriate personal familiarities has to do with my logical request." Spock sat back in his chair, crossed his arms and prepared to stare down the very stubborn human sitting across the chess board.

"A mind meld isn't *familiar*?" Kirk's tone was incredulous.

"The meld would be undertaken with the purpose of informing your First Officer of the mission status - a 'kiss' would have no such purpose." Secure in his logic, Spock settled in for a long debate.

"I've already dictated a complete report, which you have no doubt read and memorized, Spock!"

"It was commendably thorough. However, it is standard procedure to collect data from all possible sources. In addition, a meld will allow me to verify that the Melkotians did not interfere with your mind. I remind you that as your First Officer, one of my first duties is to protect you and the ship. You from harm, the ship from the consequences of your incapacitation."

Spock reluctantly discarded the impulse to explain to the illogical one that if he had not insisted upon being the one to beam down and negotiate, he would not have been subjected to this request. With an opponent as devious and manipulative as this, it was imperative to keep the area of engagement focused.

"I've already been through a complete psych checkup, Spock. Passed with flying colors. You have McCoy's report." The irrationally uncooperative human sitting mutinously across the chess board in Spock's quarters showed no signs of yielding. Spock was beginning to become uneasy and the cause was undoubtedly sufficient. This was an unusual pattern of behavior for James Kirk. He had never opposed a mind meld when logically necessary in the past. Indeed, he had suggested them on several occasions.

"A complete psychological checkup is defined in StarFleet regulations as consisting of measurement and assessment of the subject's fitness by all possible instrumental measures."

"Under the direction of the ship's CMO, and every test is to be certified by another physician, when available. Has McCoy requested this? And is M'Benga going to be eavesdropping?" Kirk's voice had dropped to a silky purr.

Spock was disconcerted. The human was clearly enjoying this discussion - a clear indication that he thought he would prevail. Kirk did not like to lose. In addition, he was not gratified by the suggestion that M'Benga should be involved.

"Doctor M'Benga, while having substantial training in the mind disciplines, is not needed for this task. I am very familiar with your mind and can verify that no damage has been sustained as well as obtain the needed data. As to McCoy - you are well aware that he suffers from an illogical aversion to mental contact which would affect his judgement on this matter."

"Ah, yes, that word 'familiar' again." Jim was now smiling broadly. Spock could not understand why humans did not feel the need to regulate their emotional states. Even now, he was aware of the faint singing of Jim's enjoyment brushing against the outer edges of his awareness.

Undoubtedly it was this disruption of his mental processes which was responsible for the unexpected intrusion of a previously considered and cataloged theory: the Academy was erroneous in its sponsorship of debating teams for subadult cadets. Such sponsorship, absent the rigorous logical scrutiny debating arguments would undergo on Vulcan, served to engender an unfortunate tendency to merely rhetorical argument for argument's sake in the individuals involved.

"I should warn you, Spock. You are in check," said the Academy debating champion in 2242, '43 and '44.

"You have not moved yet, Jim." Spock raised an eyebrow. Deliberately.

"Not in the game, though I'm going to win." This was said with undignified relish. "In this conversation. If I were you I would resign with my dignity intact."

"Indeed? My logical arguments have not been refuted. I submit to you the following: a behavioral change following alien contact is sufficient cause to postulate mental contamination. It is my duty as First Officer to verify your fitness for command by whatever means necessary. Your failure to acknowledge this reality and agree to a meld for this purpose is a behavioral change." Spock paused, aware of the imperative need to convince his Captain of his logic. "Jim, at no time in the past have you displayed an unwillingness to engage in a meld when it was logically necessary for the success of the mission or the protection of the ship." Or any unwillingness, Spock mentally added.

"I see..." His captain seemed to be evaluating that statement. "And such a meld would not constitute 'inappropriate personal familiarity' because it would be undertaken for duty-related purposes?"

"Correct." Spock gazed intently at him. An extremely disturbing theory was taking shape in Spock's consciousness. "Jim, has Doctor McCoy suggested to you that it is inadvisable to engage in any further melds with me?"

"No." Jim hesitated fractionally. "He was disturbed after the Reyna incident, but I explained that to him. Bones did warn me after our brush with Janice Lester." Spock did not miss the faint expression of distaste on Jim's face. "He said I should be *careful*; that such repeated melds might be harmful to you."

"He is incorrect. I will sustain no harm. Doctor McCoy has no expertise in this area; it is illogical to allow his unfounded concerns to affect your decision."

"Well, that was my instinctive reaction." The human spoke with an emotional inflection Spock could not categorize. "But, on the other hand, I had the impression that he had discussed it with M'Benga - and he does have some background in this area. You can't deny that some of the melds you've undertaken have been dangerous to you."

"Doctor M'Benga is not Vulcan; he is not qualified to assess the situation." Spock would make that point very clear to him at the first opportunity. The illogical presumption of the man! A little Vulcan knowledge in a human was indeed a dangerous thing. Looking directly into Jim's eyes and attempting to convey the depth of his conviction, Spock spoke slowly and quietly: "Our minds are not dangerous to each other. This has been verified in the past. It is factual that mental contact with an unknown species has some risks - but neither of us has ever been damaged by our melds. Indeed, the opposite is true. You can not deny that you were able to break the meld with the Nomad probe, which was uncontrolled and therefore dangerous to me."

"An interesting observation, Spock. Very interesting, in several different ways.... You're saying that our mental *familiarity* helped me to do that?"

"It would be the logical conclusion." Spock hesitated, wondering if his next statement would be counterproductive. "It is difficult to express such concepts verbally. Even Vulcans do not have the vocabulary to do it. I can explain this to you more completely and accurately through a meld."

"I'm sure." The man leaned back in his chair, his head cocked, studying Spock. The posture of relaxed attention was reassuring - perhaps Jim was beginning to accept the logic of his proposal, now that his hidden concerns had been addressed. This was one of the aspects of human communication Spock found so irritatingly inefficient. The human failure to frame a logically complete argument caused a logically irrefutable response to the voiced concerns to be inadequate to convince.

"Well, I trust your logic. You do have the right as my First Officer to request any possible verification of my command fitness." Jim said cheerfully. "Fortunately, I won't have to run the risk of harming you. The ShiKahr is here - I'm sure they have someone who can meld with me. That way, you'll have independent confirmation of my mental state. And they'll find it reassuring to be able to form their own assessment of the Melkotians' sincerity. This wait must be making them nervous."

Spock's near shock at the suggestion prevented an immediate response. The Law of Unintended Consequences had just, as McCoy might have expressed it, 'kicked him in the pants'. An extremely unpleasant vision of James Kirk loose in the galaxy, wandering up to randomly selected Vulcans and suggesting a mind meld for any putatively logical reason transfixed him. It was very possible that he might convince an unwary Vulcan to do it - the man was improbably persuasive. "The fact that it is not dangerous for you and I to meld does not indicate that it would not be dangerous for you to meld with another Vucan. It is dangerous. As dangerous as being in mental contact with the Melkotians - an unknown quantity with the undoubted capacity to damage you, whether intentionally or not."

Jim sighed. "Well, the Vulcans aboard the Shikahr are not an unknown quantity, Spock. I'm sure they have several like you - Vulcans who can meld with anything and anyone, and probably do it for the fun of it. I don't see that there's a problem. Besides, I really do think it will reassure them."

Spock struggled to maintain his control. "The crew of the Shikahr is *Vulcan*! They do not seek 'fun'; they are not nervous; the command staff of the Shikahr understands the logical necessity to wait for the Melkotians to do as they have stated. If there is any other information they require, I will be able to provide it after the meld. There is no necessity for you to expose yourself to this risk, and as your First Officer I forbid it. You have stated that you trust my logic; that is rational. It is rational for you to follow it."

"Well, that's very emphatic," Kirk observed. "As the Captain of this ship, it is *my* duty to insure success in this mission if possible, and to protect the welfare of this ship and its crew to the extent consistent with this mission. For the purposes of this *discussion*, let us postulate that your speculation that my command fitness has been impaired by the Melkotians is true. If so, you are required to preserve your command fitness as the *highest priority*, since you now have the responsibility to direct this mission and preserve the Enterprise."

Kirk was now leaning forward, the staccato rhythms of his speech flagging his intensity. "Therefore, any risk which might accrue to you through a mind meld with me is unacceptable - and if my mind has been contaminated by contact with the Melkotians, there is a risk that yours might be affected by contact with mine. Checkmate, Spock. Checkmate, my friend. You do not have the right, as my First Officer, to insist that I meld with you."

A long moment of silence followed. Spock assessed the logical merits of the other's arguments with Vulcan speed. Irrefutable. This conclusion and its ramifications implied that he should have expedited his application to Gol. It had been an error to assume, without fully examining, the proposition that his services to his Captain and the Enterprise were essential to the success of the five-year mission. Clearly, his state had warped his logic. Was it possible that he was now more of a threat to his Captain and the Enterprise than a benefit?

"But the question of whether you have the right to insist on it as Spock is still open." Jim's complete calm struck Spock as illogical. Did he not grasp the implications? And it was self-evident that he had no right whatsoever to insist on a mind meld for private reasons.

"I do trust your logic, Spock. For the best of reasons - I've seen it in action, and observed the results. I also trust and admire your complete dedication to the ideals of Surak, the goals and purposes of the Federation, and to the mission of the Enterprise." He paused for a moment, eying the chessboard.

"You know, you were here before I was, and you've had a huge role in shaping the ethos of this ship. Without the scientific resources the Enterprise has, we would have been destroyed more than once. And worse, Spock, we would have failed in our mission more than once. Literally, millions are now alive who would have been dead without your contributions. That was why I could not bring myself to kill you on Vulcan." The hypnotic rise and fall of the familiar voice was distracting Spock from his pressing need to reassert some logical control.

"You must know that. You understand McCoy's absolute devotion to his principles at least as well as I do. What he did was dangerous, and the only possible ethical grounds for him to do it was his knowledge that I would not kill you. I've watched him needle and harass you, try to provoke you, and challenge your most cherished ideals. At times I suspect that the only reason you tolerate him is your awareness that he saved my life...."

Jim leaned back in his chair again and caught Spock's eyes. "McCoy knows that you would never hurt me. I know that you would never hurt me. If he is cautioning me about melding with you, it's because M'Benga has suggested to him that it might harm *you*. And my instinctive reaction to that was 'not a possibility'. But a good commander, Spock, does second-guess himself."

"So I've been thinking about it. And for the last ten months I've also been thinking about my instinctive confusion that you didn't "know* at first that I was in Janice Lester's body - that the Kirk giving orders was an imposter. I could not figure out why, since I knew there was some link, some awareness, between us - why you didn't perceive that *she* was not *me*. The answer, I think, is that all along you've been using your iron control to block that link, to preserve my mental privacy. If you sensed some wrongness, some discrepancy, I think you suppressed what would have to be an almost instinctive Vulcan reaction - to open up that link and evaluate my situation in the most natural, direct, and effective way for a Vulcan."

Spock could not have been more disconcerted if the man in front of him had suddenly levitated his body and was now addressing him while hovering two feet in the air. The abrupt discontinuity held him speechless. How could this man possibly have gotten so close to the reality with the almost non-existent data available to him?

"All along you've been protecting me, Spock. But have I been protecting you?" Jim's serious and inquiring gaze cut through Spock's mental paralysis.

"You have not injured me. You have harmed me in no way. That I am alive is due to you; my state is not your responsibility." The rasping hoarseness of his own voice was jolting. "I must meditate."

"On what, Spock? We haven't finished evaluating the situation." Jim remained calm. "First recognize c'thia, then develop a logical strategy to deal with it, then ensure that your control is sufficient to execute it. Isn't that how it is supposed to work?"

"I recognize c'thia, I must now meditate on it."

"Do you, Spock? Perhaps, but something's wrong here, and as your Captain, I want to know what. Hear me out." Pinned by Kirk's gaze, Spock did not protest further.

"As I said, I trust your logic. And, speaking of instincts, I tend to trust yours as well as mine. Of course," Kirk paused for a moment, "yours are Vulcan, mine are human. Have I told you that I see you as Vulcan? I know you call yourself half-human, but I don't see it. You function as a Vulcan, superbly. You'd make a terrible human, if you ever tried to be one. But then, I'd make an awful Vulcan."

It was like a chant, a remote, still functioning mental process commented to Spock. That cherished voice, weaving a wall isolating the two of them in Kirk's domain. Kirk continued inexorably. "I wonder if your control isn't actually better than that of most Vulcans. You never totally lost it during your Pon Farr. Not on the ship, not on Vulcan. Some part of your control kept intervening. T'Pau may have envied you that.... Every time you were about to hurt someone, that last logical element took back over." Until the combat, Spock's mental voice wearily commented. The memory rose again; the terrible non-Kirkness of the solid flesh under his hands, this vibrant being transformed into nothing more than sand or rocks. His own responsibility - absolute.

"That's the heart of Vulcan, isn't it? To recognize the reality of your own natures and to take all possible steps to prevent yourselves from doing harm. It's almost biblical, Spock. 'If thy right hand offends thee, cut it off.' And that's what you did, isn't it? You were prepared to cut off your own chances at life to protect others. If Bones had not been able to revive me, my death would not have been your fault. You warned me on the ship. You told me that you were dangerous. You asked me to lock you away. If I had done what you asked, you'd never have inflicted any harm on anyone, Spock. Your logic did not fail you; you did not fail logic."

"Not then, but later." Spock was surprised by his own voice. "I should not have asked you to come with me. Your death is due to my illogic."

"No - that's wrong. You knew I wanted you alive; you knew I was taking exceptional steps to give you a chance. The same for Bones. It was instinctively logical for you to ask us to come with you; you instinctively and logically expected that we would both protect you and protect others from harm, just as we were doing on the ship."

"How could you have guessed that T'Pring would challenge? T'Pau was completely floored when she picked me as her champion! Even if you maintain that you should have logically allowed for this remote possibility - how could you have logically predicted that I would accept? You warned me, Spock. You broke the depths of plak tau to say no! And Spock, when I accepted the challenge, I *knew* that your control was failing. I knew that there was a possibility that you would kill me, even if I did not know the fight had to end in one of our deaths. My death is my responsibility, not yours! Spock, you and Bones are the only two players in T'Pring's drama who can be judged guiltless."

The repetitive beat of the man's voice had merged with the memory of the marriage drums. Kirk's assertions struck his consciousness, pounding rhythmically at his conception of c'thia. Each statement forced assessment, and if not deniable, logic demanded that c'thia include this aspect of truth as well. Spock's c'thia began to shift and reform under the pressure.

C'thia was Jim facing him across the chessboard in Spock's quarters; c'thia was the spasms of the bleeding body under his hands; c'thia was his last mindcry, a fierce plea to Spock not to surrender to such injustice, a demand that Spock live; c'thia was the touch of the katra he had instinctively reached to receive; c'thia the cradle he had formed in his own mind to accommodate the fractured, imploring mentality that was the dying Kirk; c'thia the agony of feeling it slip slowly away; c'thia the warmth of the body he had embraced in sickbay; c'thia the recognition of the lost katra; c'thia the joy of finding it; c'thia was the imperative, demanding, focused force of this man's mind piercing his defenses. C'thia and k'yat the duality of Kirk as Spock now sensed him, the mental emanations of the man pressing externally against his shields and as an unquenchable presence deep within Spock's own mind.

"Can you deny that logic, Spock?"

"It requires assessment...."

"Assess it then, but I'm done with that assessment, and I know what I believe. And since I find your logic strong, I ask myself: 'What would cause Spock's logic to falter now?' I don't see how the control or the logic which held true while you were half-mad and nearly dead on your feet could fail you now. So - let me assume it hasn't." A fleeting, intense smile broke the watchful stoicism of Jim's features. "I'll see where deduction and observation take me from there!"

"An observation: Vulcans do not like to lie, but Vulcans don't always tell the whole truth, either. Vulcans state half-truths; Vulcans try to protect the 'lesser races' from the impact of truths their fragile and illogical minds are not prepared to accept. Vulcans are capable of deception, misdirection and inspired obfuscation if it seems required in service of the central purpose of logic - to prevent harm. Don't even try to deny the truth of that observation, Spock." Spock had seen the look of feral intensity on Kirk's face before. A gleam of predatory satisfaction brushed his mind; the hunter was closing in on his prey.

"Logic dictates that c'thia can not be reduced to an absolute conception in one mind, whether it be human or vulcan. The human concept of 'the whole truth' is irrational and false. I can not know it and neither can you." Useless, and Spock comprehended that as he spoke.

"Perhaps, but I can recognize what is *not* the whole truth because it conflicts with observed reality. I have the right to conceive of a truth which is more complete, if it conforms to the reality I see...." Kirk was very calm now, intensely absorbed in his purpose. He reached out to the chessboard and moved a pawn. "It looks to me like check in four, Spock." Spock did not drop his gaze to the chessboard. All his attention centered on Kirk's next words.

"Let's see where I am. First, I am assuming that your demand to meld with me is based on logic, instinctive or conscious. Second, past observations suggest that you are being as truthful as you perceive possible about your reasons. In this conversation you've made several emphatic assertions."

"A: It is not at all dangerous to you for you and I meld, nor is it dangerous to me, and if M'Benga thinks differently he is wrong, My own instinctive reaction to that is that you are correct."

"B: Under certain circumstances, our 'mental familiarity' is positively helpful to you; my ability to bring you out of the link with Nomad is an example of that. That seems to be objective fact."

"C: It is dangerous for me to meld with other Vulcans. This I find fascinating. How could C be true if A is true? C seems to be a more general case of A. You say no; that C is equivalent to mental contact with the Melkotians - 'an unknown quantity with the undoubted capacity to damage me, whether intentional or not'. That's even more fascinating."

"D: You tell me that accepting your logic is rational. Now, we've already established that there is a flaw in your logic *as stated*, but actually this statement of yours agrees with my observations - that your logic and control are fundamentally extremely strong. So statement D supports my second assumption - that you are being as truthful as you believe consistent with doing no harm. Therefore, as a working theory I am going to accept the idea that you are being truthful and accurate when you tell me that we must meld. For the time being I'll also accept your contention that your responsibilities as First Officer require this."

Spock looked at Kirk in cold logical disbelief. His own strategy had been dictated by logic, but the wall logic had built was falling before this human's improbable, intuitive grasp of c'thia. The truth he had successfully hidden from his father and the healer, both Vulcans with all the facts to assist their analysis of the situation, might be unearthed by one determined human. He had failed in his duty to this man by underestimating him. It now remained only to assess the harm his failure would inflict, and prevent Kirk from damaging himself by means of his deductions.

Kirk paused, and gave Spock an assessing gaze. "You could take over from here, Spock. What's the purpose of the mystery any longer? Why not just admit it?" The human shifted in his chair, his irritation evident. "All this logic is exhausting - I don't know how you do it all the time. I prefer the human way of just jumping directly to the truth."

While any chance remained that Kirk did not understand the full implications of his situation, the 'mystery' did have a logical purpose. The only logical response was misdirection, although the probability of success was minimal. "I am gratified to see you making an attempt at a logical analysis of the situation, Jim. Even if your conclusions are erroneous, the mental discipline is undoubtedly beneficial. Please continue - it is clear that our association has been more profitable to you than I had previously suspected."

Kirk shook his head, obviously exasperated. "Alright then, but don't think I'm not going to get my revenge for this 'illogical' stubbornness, Mr. Spock. Where was I? Oh, yes, you've got to meld with me to determine if the Melkotians have messed with my mind enough to impar my command fitness. If this is true, my earlier conclusion - that since a meld between us could impair your command fitness if the Melkotians have affected mine; your duty requires you *not* to meld with me, is obviously false. You haven't disputed the fact that mental contamination could occur."

Kirk sighed and looked at Spock. He was clearly fatigued, but determined to push the matter forward. "The only logical conclusion is that you are already subject to the dangers of the meld - that if my mind is impaired, yours essentially is too. The implication is that we are irrevocably mentally connected in a way beyond your ability to block or control. Now if that were the case, it would be your duty to meld with me, since your command fitness is at stake. You would have acted very logically in allowing McCoy to run all of his tests to see if I appeared affected. If there was some obvious damage, your duty would have been to remove both of us from the duty roster, although melding with me would probably not have been advisable. Since there isn't, your duty requires that you investigate further, because the possibility of a subtle contamination which could impair both of us when we were presumed free of alien influence and not subject to scrutiny is truly threatening to the ship."

Kirk smiled. "Are you willing to concede?"

"Negative." Spock paused. "There are other possible explanations for my behavior. This chain of logical deductions is neither complete nor proved. This entire chain of reasoning is in fact illogical; logic is used to determine a course of action. If your conclusions here are correct, we should meld as I stated previously. Therefore this entire exercise of logic, although it has been interesting, has no purpose. It is a common error among beginning students of logic and can lead to substantial confusion of action and thought. Surak's "Exposition Of The Purposes Of Logic" will make this clear. An adequate translation is available in the ship's library. I will download it to a PADD for your review after my duty shift tomorrow."

"But will I read it? Not a chance. I'll grant that this 'chain of logical deductions' is incomplete. Certainly we can also logically conclude that the Galactic Encyclopedia should have a picture of a Vulcan to illustrate the word 'mule'. I think I'll send in your Federation ID holo tomorrow." Kirk was glaring, although apparently somewhat amused. "This has a purpose, Spock. I am not only examining the logic of the meld, but questioning in what capacity we are undertaking it. Are we melding as only Captain and First Officer? Or are we melding as Jim and Spock?"

"The distinction is meaningless, *Captain*. You are the Captain; you fulfill that function with every resource at your disposal. I am the First Officer; logic requires me to dedicate my whole being to that duty, since the lives of sapient beings depend on it. It is illogical to continue this conversation; the logical course of action is to engage in the meld and then retire to rest."

"It's not meaningless to *me*. And no, we are not ending this conversation yet. It's clear I'll have to continue whacking you over the head with a lirpa of logic. I never realized you had masochist tendencies before, Spock. You're lucky that I'll do anything for a friend."

Spock raised an eyebrow at his Captain and friend. Spock's evasions, while ultimately ineffective, had afforded him the chance to consolidate mentally. It appeared that Imperious Tiberius would not be diverted, although Spock had managed to distract his attention somewhat. When humans lost control over their emotions but were reluctant to engage in a physical confrontation they generally disengaged and left the area. The attempt would have to be made. "Logic is an instrument of peace, not violence. Only an illogical human would coin such an inapt metaphor."

"I like it, Spock. The 'logical lirpa.' I must remember to use it in conversation with Bones tomorrow. Our 'good doctor' gets overzealous when bored." Kirk's smug smile was most irrational. "To return to my 'beginner's logic' - we are all tangled up mentally. You can't disengage from this contact. That's my working theory. Since you don't like my logic, I'll have to try scientific method. Does this theory fit the observations? If I'm right, A is true; melding doesn't really change anything. M'Benga isn't warning against the actual harm melds would cause, he is trying to warn me against the situation which already exists. He doesn't know about this either. Very interesting. B is explained; I was able to break the Nomad meld because I have a permanently wired mental hotline open to you. My instinctive reactions in response to M'Benga's warning and the Lester incident are valid and explained."

There was little point in interrupting this, Spock reflected. As long as he was focused on the fact of the bonding link instead of its implications the situation would be manageable. Spock split his attention, devoting one part of his mental resources to Kirk's argument while reserving another for the necessary counter. He began reviewing an explanation of mental links that would produce the desired response. Certainly Kirk would comprehend that such a link, if accidental, was not an actual commitment to bond, but a circumstance to be dealt with.

"C is more interesting. How could it be dangerous for me to meld with another Vulcan? My second assumption is that you are are not being entirely truthful and you do this to prevent harm. Since only two individuals are involved, you are trying to prevent harm to me or to you. Or possibly both. The fact that I am the gum stuck on your mental Vulcan shoe is what you have been trying to hide. A meld with another Vulcan deep enough to verify that I am not still affected by the Melkotian contact would certainly reveal to this other Vulcan this mental connection between us. So the 'unintentional damage' you warn me about is the fact that I would find out the truth about our link, and probably the implications of that link to you."

"Don't stop me, Spock!" Kirk cocked his head, laughing, and raised a warning hand. "I'm on a roll, and we'd better move this along or we'll both be stuck here right through gamma shift. A valid theory should be predictive. If my working theory is true, you have to meld with me. But what if the Melkotians are present in my mind and manage to establish control of yours as the result of the meld? You're the epitome of a StarFleet officer. You have already foreseen this and taken steps to prevent risk to the ship."

"How about this prediction? Instead of signing off on McCoy's findings to return me to active duty status, you have placed a statement in the permanent log removing yourself from active duty status, on grounds of possible external mental influence. You've informed Scotty that he is currently in command of the Enterprise, and I'll bet you've instructed the computer to deliver a message to McCoy at the start of alpha informing him that he gets to run a complete psych on you tomorrow. You will, of course, explain this as a necessary consequence of our meld. You've probably logged a recommendation that this matter should be referred to the healers on the ShiKahr if "any" abnormalities are found during your psych." Kirk halted and pinned Spock with an inquiring stare.

"Affirmative," Spock conceded.

"So my 'chain of logical deductions proves out, doesn't it?" Kirk regarded Spock in obvious triumph.

"It still has no logical purpose, Captain," Spock countered.

"Of course it does, Spock. If a human comes to the very logical conclusion that he is going to have to seduce a Vulcan, he also realizes he will have to convince the Vulcan that there is a logical necessity to subject himself to such an undignified procedure. Which brings me back to where I started. Kiss me, Spock." After a slight pause, Kirk smiled warmly at Spock and added, "I hope the old Earth saying 'third time's the charm' holds true."

Kirk stood, stretched and announced, "I'm going to the galley for some coffee." Speechless, Spock watched Kirk's exit. Every movement of the man's body spoke confidence, and so did the touch of his mind.

The opportunity for a few moments of undisturbed reflection was welcome. It was obvious that Jim comprehended one of the implications of the link - that Spock would be drawn to him at his next Pon Farr. Without appearing to threaten he had implied that if he could not get information from Spock, he was willing to ask other Vulcans; this was at all costs to be avoided.

If Jim approached another Vulcan with his suspicions, the matter would be dealt with under Vulcan law. They would give him all of the available options and make it clear that he was under no legal or ethical obligation to consummate the link to Spock. However, Jim had demonstrated a consistent and long-standing inability to correctly balance his own interests against Spock's. Once he learned that he had the legal right to prevent Spock's entrance to Gol, it was probable that he would exercise that right without regard for his own welfare.

One puzzling fact remained. How had Jim discovered that the link was, in fact, a bonding link? If he had spoken to M'Benga about his veiled warning M'Benga might have explained that an unbonded Vulcan would instinctively tend to bond to any receptive mind. It was a survival instinct honed over milennia of evolution. If Kirk had spoken to M'Benga about this, he might very well check any information Spock gave him tonight with the same source. This would have to be investigated.

The remainder of the interval Spock spent attempting to fortify his controls. He was profoundly relieved that he no longer had to hide the depth of the link from Jim; the level of deception involved had required that he actually maintain a surface conception of c'thia which violated his own deeper perceptions. The strain on his logic and control had been intense, requiring deep meditation at constant intervals.

Now, however, his control would be acutely tested. His instincts he could control until the onset of Pon Farr, but his logical admiration and respect for the man had not weakened over the past years. To face this open offer of what he most desired and appear unmoved would be difficult. If he managed to bring this to a successful conclusion the implication was that his task at Gol would be likely to succeed. This reflection afforded a certain wry gratification.

Reluctantly Spock decided to drop some of the shields he had erected against Kirk's mind. He would need to control the upcoming conversation. Kirk was a difficult opponent; his pragmatic focus and ability to manipulate others psychologically were powerful forces. Spock would need all the resources and information he could muster to prevail.

The sound of the door alerted him to Kirk's return. Spock accepted the cup Kirk handed him. "I brought you some tea," Jim said cheerfully. "And look what I found - doughnuts." He sat down, divided his booty between the two plates and took a bite. "These are good if you don't think about them being made from algae."

Five months ago Doctor McCoy had placed Kirk on a diet. Kirk had been indignant but disdainfully cooperative, and in an attempt to assuage his irritation Spock had requested that Medical stock the small galley at the end of their shared deck with a selection of calorie-controlled and nutrient-enriched snacks. Spock cautiously sampled one of the doughnuts. Cinnamon. It was fortunate that the common belief that cinnamon acted as an aphrodisiac on Vulcans was false. Spock had verified this himself while at the Academy by means of a study session with one of the other students in his class and a bag of cinnamon cookies. The faint suspicion that Christine Chapel had been placed in charge of this duty crossed his mind. Spock dismissed the distracting line of thought. It was time to proceed with what could not be avoided.

"How long have you known, Jim?" Kirk glanced at Spock and swallowed. "Known what?"

"That the link we share is in effect a bonding link - that I would be drawn to you at my next Pon Farr." The words were less difficult to utter than Spock had expected.

"Since the Babel conference. It was only logical." The glint of amusement in Jim's eyes would have to be forgiven. Spock did not comprehend this. Sarek had not known. "Explain."

"Well, I had those days in Sickbay lying around staring at the ceiling to think about it. Why would Vulcan have sent your father? He'd already had two heart attacks. True, the conference was important, but it was going to be dangerously stressful - and how could it help Vulcan's interests if their Ambassador collapsed in the middle of it? Also, Vulcan has plenty of ships. Sarek would have been better off on one of those with a staff of Vulcan healers."

Kirk was eying Spock calmly and speaking between swallows of coffee. "Since you weren't responding to any of the messages from Vulcan I decided it was something of a Spock-retrieval operation. Then when we got back to Vulcan and you and the healer vanished into your quarters for half a day - it was obvious that they were checking you out instead of Sarek."

"That does not explain why you concluded that we shared a bonding link." Spock had assumed that Kirk had understood Sarek's hidden agenda. Kirk was never oblivious to anything that affected his ship.

"Well, everyone seemed surprised that you were okay. Even at the Altair conference - the Vulcans seem totally baffled to hear that you were alive. Once they knew they were desperate to get to you. Bones said you let one into your quarters and talked to him for quite a while. Of course, they were surprised to see me alive and kicking, too." Kirk seemed almost gleeful. "Watching them try to control their eyebrows when I walked into the reception the first day was entertaining. Anyway, they knew you were essentially fine after Altair, so I guessed that some other complication required the Spock-retrieval gambit. It just made sense - I figured surviving the Pon Farr by combat without mating wasn't a very likely outcome in Vulcan eyes."

Kirk took a few bites from his doughnut. "Your father cornered me before he left the ship. He told me that the healer had verified that you had a 'dakh s'teran' link with me, and asked if that was a problem. I told him no, of course. He stared at the wall in a rather familiar fashion most of the time he was talking to me." Kirk was studying at his plate, apparently repressing a smile. "I got the idea that he thought you and I had shaken hands and rolled around in the hay for a few days before Altair, and that accounted for your survival. I knew we hadn't, and I knew you *were* alright, but it was obvious that something had happened. So I just assumed - maybe you hadn't mated physically, but you were hooked up mentally." Kirk shrugged. "One out of two isn't bad."

"Adult Vulcan males are rarely stable without a viable link. It was possible that I could be dangerous. " Spock considered his options. He had not known that Sarek had spoken to Kirk. "What else did he tell you?"

"Not much. He commented that he would prefer that you had children, since you were his only son. I told the wall that I regarded you as an extremely successful life form who should be encouraged to propagate. I mentioned that undoubtedly a wife who was not homicidal would facilitate the process. He said that contrary to my experience, most Vulcan females were quite peaceful. I asked him what would happen to you if I were killed, and pointed out that we were in a dangerous business. He said another person could link to you. I asked if that person had to be a telepath and explained they were in short supply at the moment on starships. He said he would make provisions. Then he tried to convince me that I should adopt a safer profession, and asked if I had considered diplomacy. I told him that I would go back to farming if I wanted to switch jobs, but I was very good at what I did and didn't see why four other people should get killed in my place. He explained in some detail that when diplomats were successful people did not get killed. I answered that I was all for diplomatic success, but that the Klingons, Orion pirates and various other species had not yet grasped the value of that approach."

Kirk drank the rest of his coffee. "It was the most embarrassing conversation I've had since I was sixteen. I climbed up the oak to get in my bedroom window at three AM and found my mother sitting on my bed staring at the pile of condoms Sam had so thoughtfully left on my dresser." Kirk sighed. "I threw him in the pond the next day. Anyway, when M'Benga showed up two months later I figured we had a deal. I was to get you through the mission safely and keep my hands off you; he would take care of the Vulcan side of things."

Spock found his attention unexpectedly captured by the reference to Kirk's childhood conversation with his mother. It was impossible to avoid a certain empathy. Had Sarek ever discovered that he was out at that late at night he would almost certainly have been condemned to a special course of supervised meditation. The reference to Sam's fate was somewhat ominous. He did not wish to suddenly find himself in whatever correlated to a pond in the depths of space.

"Surely the fault was not Sam's? He was merely trying to protect your welfare."

Kirk looked at Spock with genuine indignation. "I was out dirtbiking! We'd built a course in an old slag heap about thirty miles away. But I couldn't admit that, because she would have demanded details and checked it out, everyone would have found out, and somebody would have put a stop to it. I wasn't, uh, experienced then, so the conversation which followed took several very unexpected turns - at least to me." He shook his head ruefully. "You think you'll grow up, magically become sophisticated, and never have to face this sort of thing again. Life can be disappointing."

There were indeed certain parallels between the two incidents, Spock reflected. Apologies were illogical, but humans did not believe this. He would not have wanted to be subjected to a discussion of his relationship to Jim with Jim's mother. "I apologize for the invasion of your privacy."

"Once I recovered it was sort of reassuring. At least I knew all of Vulcan wasn't lined up against you." Jim contemplated Spock with obvious affection. "You have noticed what an excellent example of disclosure I am setting here, haven't you? Why have you been keeping the full nature of the link a secret?"

It would have to be confronted. Spock chose his words carefully, leaving his mind wide open to catch Jim's reaction. "You are not Vulcan; this link was created accidentally. Because you are not Vulcan, you can not even understand the full implications of this. Even if you were Vulcan, an accidental link would not be a bond. A bond is created when two individuals agree to the linking. I do not understand your reaction to the knowledge of this link. Why are you not disturbed? This is an invasion of your privacy which would be very distasteful to most humans, is it not?"

Puzzlement, and thought. Jim was seriously attempting to consider Spock's inquiries. "I'm not disturbed." More thought. "In a way, it's no different than any other contact, is it? There are people I wouldn't play chess with. Some people you want to hang around with, some you don't."

"You are being forced to 'hang around' with me, whether you agree or not." Spock waited for a reply.

"So are you. I don't feel ... invaded. More like I've got a big brother behind my back. Just - warmth, a sense of connection. It's probably worse for you, because you're a telepath. Do you find it unpleasant?" Jim's quiet question caught Spock by surprise.

"No, but I am Vulcan. It is natural to me. In a sense, for an adult Vulcan to be deprived a telepathic connections is equivalent to solitary confinement for a human. It qualifies as sensory deprivation, and this lack can induce mental disturbance and illness." Spock sensed a definite surge of pain.

"Well, I'm honored to be your surrogate, Spock." Jim's expression was completely unrevealing, and his emotional emanations dimmed and then blanked out. Spock was confused by the use of the word 'surrogate'.

"Why surrogate? This implies that another should be in your place."

"Let's face it, this is not how this was supposed to work out. You are mentally slumming." Jim ended with a smile. Spock would not allow this; the man could not be left with the impression that he was inadequate. It was possible that this unplanned encounter might have some beneficial results.

"False - and completely illogical. I would have been gratified if T'Pring had accepted me, though our minds and logic are not compatible. You must see that logically I find you far more satisfactory. You are more intelligent, more controlled in the service of c'thia, your grasp of c'thia is superb, you are far more honorable and respectful of the perogatives of others - superior in every way."

"So what's the big deal? Why the secrecy if everything's really all right?" The flat skepticism of Jim's voice was not encouraging.

"Because it is not, Jim. You have not accepted me with knowledge of the consequences and can not. If this were allowed to continue, you would find yourself locked into a lifetime commitment with results you can not foresee. You would, in some respects, be subject to the strictures of a society which can not understand you, would not understand your needs and desires, and therefore would do you inevitable injustice. I can not let this occur. You have succeeded in preserving my life and sanity. You did this only by running unnecessary and illogical risks to your welfare. I accept your gift. I am completely and logically grateful for it. My father acknowledges it. 'Cha Surak has a debt to you which it can never repay. It is illogical to return harm for good. I must, logically, consider your rights and needs."

"I figured you intended to break the link eventually, Spock - but this still doesn't explain why you have been hiding it." Kirk's face was completely unexpressive and he was either supressing all emotion or screening his mind from Spock.

"Because if I were to reveal it, the situation would have to be dealt with under Vulcan law. You would be given the choice to accept or reject it, and if your choice was to reject it I would be required, by force if necessary, to take the necessary steps."

"What does it matter? You're going to break it anyway."

"It is not a normal bonding link. Because it was created in an abnormal manner, it is far more extensive. I do not think it can be broken. There is another alternative. I will enter Gol, and use the mind disciplines to nullify it, to screen the connection so that your mind will not be drawn to mine. This involves establishing a degree of mental control which is unusual and takes some time to develop. I would not have been permitted to continue my service in StarFleet under these circumstances. It would have been considered too dangerous to you. However, I know that I have the control necessary to avoid abusing the link; I did not find it logical that you should be deprived of a resource which might prove of value and which only exists because you chose to preserve it." "Might prove of value! We'd have lost the ship without you - I'd be dead!" Jim regarded Spock with open incredulity. "That's taking understatement a little too far, Spock." Jim was silent for a few minutes. Spock waited for the inevitable.

"You spoke of my 'choice', Spock. What about yours?" Jim studied him intently, waiting for a response.

"My choices are logically dependent on yours."

"In other words, if I say yes - 'accept it' to use your terminology, then you have the chance to accept or reject it?"

It was no use. He suspected and could easily discover the truth from Sarek, M'Benga, or any Vulcan authority he approached. "Would you force me to do what I consider illogical and harmful?"

Kirk did not reply. He was apparently studying the chessboard. After a subjective eternity with the objective duration of 2.26 minutes he spoke. "No, you didn't choose this any more than I did. I can't force you to do anything. I don't have the right to."

Spock's profound relief was tempered by an illogical regret. He identified the regret, isolated it, and carefully placed it aside to be examined later. The relevant factor was that Kirk would not insist on sacrificing himself. Either his strategy had been successful or Kirk's very human ideas about personal freedom and choice had prevailed. Those very ideas, Spock reiterated mentally, were unresolvable fundamental dissonances between human and Vulcan culture.

Kirk had propped his elbows on the desk and cupped his hands over his face. Spock observed his fingers moving in short vertical strokes against his forehead. The physical and pyschic distance the man had placed between them must signify his acceptance and was thus a positive sign; the only logical reason for regret was that Spock now lacked input as to what the appropriate verbal response would be. The silence continued. Spock's observation was possibly a violation of privacy. He fixed his gaze on the IDIC symbol on the opposite wall. He must respond in some way approving Kirk's decision to accept the reality of the situation. "I admire your logic."

"Do you!" The raw intensity of the reply was startling. Spock dropped his gaze to meet Kirk's. He had lifted his head from his hands. The muscles in his face were drawn so tightly that the flesh appeared pressed against his skull and the corners of his mouth were pulled back into an expression approaching a snarl. "I've destroyed you. T'Pring tried, but I succeeded." The words were uttered in a monotone forced past clenched teeth. Kirk was obviously fighting intense emotion, his chest heaving in a slow rhythmic motion. "I should have let you fight Stonn - at least you'd have had a chance. You're talking about some form of psychic castration. If I want to get to you, I don't solve an equation, I just turn spockwards. You will have to mentally dissect yourself."

Only Edith Keeler's and Reyna's deaths had provoked this degree of distress. In both cases Kirk had blamed himself - he had regarded himself as less guilty when Sam had died. Spock had concluded that this was the factor allowing the human to cope more easily with an objectively and subjectively greater loss.

Spock could and would assuage the emotions in a meld but it was also necessary to convey the facts. It was now evident that Kirk had learned to control the link to some degree; his ability to screen intense emotion and the remark 'I just turn spockwards' proved it. Spock would have to arrange for him to receive treatment by a Vulcan healer before he went to Gol; Kirk might suffer adverse consequences otherwise. Spock's earlier hypothesis had been correct. His logic had failed him; he should have retreated to Gol before this had occurred.

"It is true that I will have to establish control of my mind on what a human would consider an instinctive or subconscious level. The practice of this discipline is well established, and it is used for other reasons as well. Many seek this to perfect their logic. Your reaction is based on a misunderstanding; you have not harmed me, and your actions have not restricted my decisions." Spock watched Kirk intently, trying to assess his responsiveness.

"Consider the facts. If I had fought Stonn, what you refer to as 'a chance' would have been the outcome that I killed Stonn and took T'Pring to relieve my needs. A Vulcan requires intense mental contact to relieve Pon Farr. Do you understand this? We are biologically programmed to require external stimulation to certain precise neurological centers in our brains. Only this opens the neurological pathways that allow resolution of Pon Farr. I would have established this contact with T'Pring forcibly. Once I had done so, the mating fever would completely have consumed me. With my mind locked open in this vulnerable state, T'Pring would have attempted to consolidate her hold on my conscious mind."

Spock hesitated, searching for words and any indication of Kirk's response. He wished to address the man by his name, but he did not now have the right to do so. "Can you comprehend that this would have resolved itself into a long-term struggle of minds? I would have been bonded to T'Pring mentally, locked to a mind which desired to control or kill me. To go to Gol would have been an unimaginably better alternative; many have sought refuge there under such conditions. Almost certainly the only path which allowed me this option would have required her death. Under Vulcan law, I would have had the right to kill her, and seek refuge at Gol. No other Vulcan would have wished to run the risk of bonding to my scarred and damaged mind. My other option would have been to completely control her mind, and spend the rest of my life as the mental jailer of a sapient being."

The words were harsh, but completely true. Spock watched as his Captain and savior paled in visible shock as comprehension struck. Spock would not have believed that he would ever find it logical to be this explicit about the reality of Vulcan biology. Humans, with their casual ability to interact with others, with their unconscious beliefs about freedom and personal autonomy, could not intuitively grasp the heart of Vulcan and the reasons behind Vulcan's adherence to the path of logic. The man's instinctive repulsion would reinforce his acceptance of Spock's decision. Kirk's understanding of the facts would prevent him from feeling guilt over Spock's fate.

"Do you understand why I say that my debt to you can not be repaid? Sarek does acknowledge it, 'cha Surak must recognize it. All Vulcan owes you for your silence about our secrets. The reality, the unquestionable c'thia is that you have offered me a future far preferable to any that my actions could have secured for myself. You played no part in creating this situation; your actions have done much to resolve it and create the possibility of better outcomes for three Vulcans. You are the one who has been endangered and hurt by your actions - no other."

"If you doubt the truth of my words, I will arrange for you to speak to S'thek. He is my cousin, a healer with experience in treating those who have suffered such traumas. It was S'thek who visited me while the Enterprise was in orbit around Altair. He was logically astounded to find me still a whole, rational being. He melded with me deeply enough to assess what had happened. I asked him to remain silent while I considered the logical consequences. I ask only that you not reveal his silence; he might face penalties for his actions."

Kirk swallowed a few times. "That won't be necessary. I believe you. I won't say anything about S'thek." He was silent for a while. "That's terrible, Spock. Does this happen often?"

"The challenge? No, while it is the female's right it has not been commonly used since the time of Surak. The possible consequences to both parties are so severe that each party would consent to a dissolution before the time of Pon Farr." It was irrelevant, and thus illogical, but Spock was impelled to speak. "Before committing for the five-year mission I visited T'Pring on Vulcan and offered her dissolution. She refused."

"The power struggle, Spock." Very human, Spock thought. "It can occur, though not in so extreme a form. It is the reason that Vulcans are not regarded as adult until bonded. In a sense, one unbonded can not make a binding decision or be regarded as having a fully formed character. Both parties must accommodate to each other to a certain extent. This is the reason for childhood bonding. One has the chance to develop mutual sympathy and understanding before being forced by biology into the forced mental proximity of the bond." Spock hesitated. "I believe that by human standards most bonded pairs are highly supportive of each other. There is the logical certainty that your fates are linked."

More silence. Kirk spoke absently, his attention obviously divided. "It's not a popular concept, but several earth cultures still practice arranged marriage. They actually tend to work pretty well."

Spock was familiar with the statistics. Arranged Terran marriages had a higher success rate than those not, and this had been true for centuries. Logically, this was probably due to differing sets of expectations between the different cultures.

"That's why!" Suddenly Kirk appeared alert. "It is traditional for the male to be accompanied by his closest friends.... Your friends offer you an alternative, don't they? Bad form to show up with an alternate wife already - but a male can bond to you to get you through Pon Farr! Then you just tell your ex 'Have a good life, darling, you're no great loss!' and wander off for a little fun in the bushes with your buddy."

Spock attempted to control his errant eyebrow. Kirk's resilience and intuition were always improbable.

"You know, in a sense this entire situation is rather traditional." Kirk spoke thoughtfully. "The only weird thing about it is that I'm human." He appeared somewhat startled by his own conclusion.

Spock did not like the direction Kirk's mind was taking. "And that I killed you. Nor is the link normal, it is exceptionally involved. Traditionally, the link would have been dissolved after Pon Farr if the s'teran preferred it."

"And if not?" There was a subtle challenge in Kirk's voice. "Two males aren't exactly going to provide an heir for the cactus farm handed down in the family for centuries."

"There are no cacti on Vulcan." Spock found Kirk's near levity incongruous. He could not account for the sudden change in the man's apparent emotions. "There are many options. If the s'teran wishes to claim the other as his t'hy'la, he may form a bond with a female, his t'hy'la may form another bond with a female, the s'teran may already be bonded to a female; they may seek the services of an a'kurat."

"A'kurat?" Kirk was confused.

This was a difficult subject; it approached too nearly to T'Pring's likely fate. "Best translated as a surrogate, I believe. An a'kurat is a female who is unable to bond, and thus may not have legitimate children of her own." Spock continued reluctantly. "Although bonding is commonly viewed by humans as a marriage, a bond is both more and less than a marriage; it is a lifelong connection, but if both parties agree it need not be exclusive."

"Does that happen often? Multiple bondings? It seems ... complicated."

"Two males who have already demonstrated the ability to bond may be regarded as a better prospect by many females than a juvenile who has not yet proved his mental fitness. The female has the option to bond to the one she prefers or both if desired, but gains the services of both. In addition, any children born to such an arrangement have two fathers from a human perspective; their futures are likely to be more secure. Once she has formed a bond she has the primary rights to both males; neither can bond to another party without her consent."

"Wolfpack." Spock raised an eyebrow at this cryptic statement.

"Wolves form small family groupings for the same reason. They have an advantage in defending their territory. Often only the alpha couple will breed, but every adult helps to raise the pups." Kirk raised an eyebrow back at Spock. "The female is guaranteed to be the alpha in the arrangement you're describing, reproductively she gets a pretty good deal. You're saying children are only 'legitimate' if they are a result of a bond?"

Spock decided to continue to satisfy Kirk's curiosity. He was unsure of its purpose, but Kirk was clearly becoming calmer; this would assist Spock in maintaining control during the meld. "It is required under Surak's law; juveniles raised in a bond are telepathically aware of it to some extent. The adults cooperate in maintaining a healthy mental environment. This assists the juvenile in the development of both control and logic."

"No wonder your father was so opposed to you joining StarFleet. Of course he disliked the idea of you as cannon fodder, but you were also running a risk in becoming so isolated from other Vulcans before you were safely bonded. He really did have a point, Spock." Kirk's tone was thoughtful rather than reproachful. Spock had not considered this before; during the month-long debate before Spock left for the Academy Sarek had always stated his objections in other terms. He would meditate on this insight later.

"Logically, you should reconsider my offer." Kirk paused for a moment and then continued slowly. "You wouldn't have to hang around me. You could just ignore me the way you've been doing for ninety percent of the time. This entire situation is not that bizarre from a Vulcan standpoint."

Kirk spoke with growing enthusiasm. "All along I've been thinking that you were really out on a limb. After all, if you are viewed as 'half Vulcan', and you end up tied to me mentally, that's three-fourths human. But really it isn't, this is a Vulcan relationship, not a human relationship. It's not even that controversial. You could live a pretty normal Vulcan life. Get married, have children - and then when I die, your life would end up being completely normal. The situation would just fix itself! It's a *much* more logical solution, Spock. Don't you see that? As long as it *works* - everything will be fine!"

Spock was too mentally disoriented to reply. This sneak attack had almost overwhelmed his defenses. Ignore him? Did Kirk really believe that was possible? It was blatantly obvious he had no understanding of the extraordinary self-control Spock had been exercising to avoid imposing his desires on the human. How dare he refer to his death as a beneficial resolution. It was impossible to deal logically with humans; their arrogance and superficial judgements were unconquerable obstacles to understanding. How could he demonstrate such extraordinary understanding of the situation in some regards and remain utterly unaware of the other aspects?

"Come on, Spock. Don't you want to be seduced?" Kirk was trying to provoke a response. "Do you want T'Pring to win? You know she's got to be at least implying to everybody that you're only alive because you're not really Vulcan, that you couldn't really bond to her, and that was why she challenged. It's your *duty* to survive. If you let the destroyers win these battles, in the end they will rule and there will be only destruction! This is logical!"

Spock fought to form a coherent response. He could not subject himself to this torture any longer. This conversation must be terminated. "It is not logical. I do not wish to be seduced. Would you force me to this?"

"With what?" Kirk appeared genuinely outraged. "A dart-gun filled with horse tranquilizers and a full-length nudie holo of Droxine? I'm just asking you to *try* being a little less rigid! There's a lot at stake here!" He spread his hands and leaned forward almost imploringly. "Can't you just regard it as an unpleasant but necessary medical procedure? Hell and damn - why not just shut your eyes and try thinking about *Zarabeth* or *Leila*." The last two words rang out with indignant emphasis.

Spock began to comprehend his meaning. It would be exceedingly unwise to counter with the obvious - that it had already worked, that Spock's problem was not a lack of response to Kirk. If that had been the case, Spock would not have been having this conversation. "Negative. We must meld tonight. I require time to compose myself. You should attempt to calm yourself also. I suggest that you return to your quarters and attempt to rest. I will comm you when I am prepared."

"That won't be necessary, Spock." Kirk's posture became rigid. "I'm not going to meld with you. Under the circumstances, it would be some form of ... mental harassment. Tomorrow I'll contact the ShiKahr and ask for their assistance."

Kirk rose and started for the door to Spock's quarters. He paused, and without turning addressed the door. "Don't worry. I'll straighten things out with them. No one will force you to do anything. Once someone melds with me they'll be very aware that you are not the aggressor here. Any other Vulcan male is going to empathize with your situation. Let's face it, they all might have been confronted with something similar. They will only respect your control and determination to follow the logical path." A moment of silence, and then in a tone of quiet endurance. "My suggestion *is* logical, Spock. You are logical. The offer will remain open - think about it." He strode through the door without a backward glance.

Spock fought for control silently. He became aware of his physical surroundings after an unknown interval. With difficulty he detached his hands from their grip on the desk. After staring blankly at the abandoned chess game for a few moments he attempted to replace the men in their slots, stopping as his hands began to shake. He lowered them to the desktop and pressed them to the cold metal, the sensation of it his primary outward focus.

The thought was unendurable. That another Vulcan would touch the mind that should have been - it a certain sense had been his - the mind that was now closed to him. What defense would he have? If one chose to take more than was offered.... Another would not understand him, comprehend the need to respect Kirk's artfully woven defenses. Another would perceive the strength and raw power of that seemingly chaotic mind but miss entirely the careful balance of the linked emotional and instinctual drives. How could Kirk be so foolish? More accurately, what had Spock done? In protecting him so entirely he had by default taught Kirk to be too open to mental contact... He had taught him to accept what was not normal by human standards.

His breathing sounded harsh in his ears. Kirk was within his rights. He could make no valid protest that would stop a healer from melding with him. Indeed, logically this was beneficial. For the first time in years he had no indication of Kirk's state and no right to obtain it. If the human required assistance, another would have to give it. Logically this meld was indicated; Spock had already recognized that he would need to arrange something of the sort for Kirk before he could go to Gol. His s'teran was already in potential danger, tomorrow's meld was a logical step in averting it. The same reasons controlling his refusal of Kirk dictated that Spock cooperate with this.

An irritating metallic scraping ground at his nerves. Spock opened his eyes to see the desk shaking under his hands. Only when he attempted to rise did he realize that his entire body was shaking. He must control, he must reassert a balance. Spock managed to stand; with careful movements he opened the drawer and removed his meditation mat. After spreading it on the floor he toed off his boots, leaving them lying carelessly by the bunk. He knelt in the brace position on the mat, his torso rigidly upright, supported only by his legs folded under him. Pressing his hands against his thighs he tensed all of his muscles; the discomfort of the position would serve eventually to assist his bodily and mental control. He would have liked to light the firepot, but did not think he could afford the distraction. He could not temper the waves of tremors rolling through his muscles; Spock's last outward act was to command the computer to raise the temperature by ten degrees and adjust the lighting to T'Kuht.

Closing his eyes on the reddish light, Spock called up the mental image of the smoldering firepot and the remembered odor of its incense. He concentrated on the self-contained unit of his body, the circle of sensation formed by the pressure on his calves, the sensation of his own fingers bruising the thigh muscles, the spastic rigidity of the back muscles flowing into the arms and back to his hands. This was c'thia; he was alone; absolutely responsible for himself. When the circle of sensation had formed itself into a perceptual whole he opened his inner mind.

Raw anger flared. The cause was sufficient. Spock would have to leave the ship; he would seek refuge on the ShiKahr and go to Gol as quickly as possible. He could not remain here with the taunt 'the offer remains open' teasing his perceptions and mocking his sacrifice. Human illogic! How could the human so disrespect his careful guardianship of his body, mind and future? Kirk had told him he believed that the meld was necessary; Kirk had told him he trusted his logic, Kirk had told him that he knew Spock was blocking the link to preserve Kirk's privacy.

And then, in the face of all this - to shield the link and decide to give his mind to another! It was the epitome of recklessness and self-disregard. Did he not understand the consequences? He would be left without Spock's services and at the mercy of others less indebted to him. What had been the use of Spock's detailed explanation of the realities of Vulcan life? The fool! The illogical, human, fool! Did he think he would find another on the ShiKahr better able to serve his interests? Let him try - no other would ever comprehend him as completely or make the effort required to attain this understanding. No other would ever respect his rights and choices as he, Spock, indeed had.

A flare of psychic energy exploded in Spock's mind. Reflexively, his head jerked up and his eyes flew open. No one was in the room - and then the door swished open and Kirk charged in, checking his momentum and skidding to a stop in front of Spock. Shirtless and bootless, the tousled hair apparition waved the half-eaten doughnut in his right hand in front of Spock's face.

"Blood sugar!" The words were accompanied by a blaze of clearly identifiable human triumph. "Low blood sugar! If I had eaten a pound of steak for dinner instead of three lettuce leaves and an ounce of chicken I'd have figured this out an hour ago!"

"You're jealous! You can't stand the thought of me melding with another Vulcan!" The doughnut described a series of forceful arcs as Kirk pounded his points home against the air. "You wouldn't care if I worked my way through every brothel on Risa - as long as I didn't get involved mentally with any of them! You want me, you even think it's logical to want me - you just don't think it's logical for *me* to want you! And there, " Kirk slowed his words and leaned even closer to Spock, pupils dilated and eyes fixed on Spock's, "is the gaping flaw in your logic."

The doughnut portion crossed Spock's vision as a wide arm swing illustrated the expanse of the gap. Spock felt several flecks of sugar impact his cheek. "You say Vulcan can't appreciate my wants and needs - can't allow for my humanity. Well - it's not Vulcan that's ignoring *my needs* here, Spock, *it's you*!". More doughnut fragments spun through the air. "Because I do want you. And if you find it illogical - tough! I'm human. I don't *have* to be *logical* to keep from wrecking the place. I'm human. I'm naturally more civilized!"

The last few words were spoken with an apparent sense of utter virtue which matched the man's mental emanations. Jim did not appear civilized as he stood aggressively before Spock, bare chest gleaming in the low light. Certainly he was not orderly; hair was falling over his forehead and doughnut crumbs were rapidly spreading in Spock's quarters. An illogically satisfying picture. The words of the pre-reform poet K'andra best expressed the situation. "Your virtues are endurable; your faults most endearing."

"And I *don't* want to meld with some one from the Shikahr! I think I'd rather get strip-searched in a Klingon jail! We're both *in check* here, Spock! And we will be until *you* decide to deal with the situation *logically*!" Spock would have to intervene, or this tirade could continue indefinitely.

"Jim, you are strewing fragments of doughnut throughout my quarters." Spock's voice sounded logical and calm in his own ears.

"So what?" The human challenged him belligerently. "Are you afraid the ants are going to disturb your picnic?" The doughnut made a disdainful movement indicating the mat Spock knelt on.

"Eat it." Spock would establish control of this situation. "Place the doughnut in your mouth, bite, chew, swallow - then repeat." Jim glared briefly at him before following his advice. The doughnut having been disposed of, Jim took a deep breath prior to speaking. Spock intervened. "There is a gaping flaw in your logic, Jim." Possibly his human t'hy'la would notice Spock's admirable calm; it was unlikely he would choose to emulate it.

"Name it!" The defiance of the words eroded the last of Spock's tolerance.

"You are completely illogical in assuming that any Vulcan would ever submit passively to such an 'undignified procedure' as seduction." With all his speed, Spock leaned forward, reached out his arm and pulled the human closer. Jim took a reflexive step forward to keep his balance; the flurry of movement ended with the human's torso pinned securely a few inches in front of Spock's face and Spock's arm wrapped tightly around Jim's waist and lower back. Spock used his other hand to open the fastenings of the pants, pulling them down a few inches. The human organ fell neatly into place in front of Spock's face; he opened his mouth and pulled it in.

One jerk of surprise, which Spock countered by tightening his arm warningly around the human. He reached behind the man's thigh and seized it with the other hand while he began to suck and play with his captive. It was stirring in his mouth, the soft flesh expanding and hardening under the stimulation. A delightful sensation, indeed, the silky smoothness of the covering skin contrasted most pleasingly with the hardness beneath.

Spock opened his mind, beckoning to Jim's. A startled impression of confused pleasure, questioning. Spock reached for Jim's sensory impressions. A stroke of his tongue down the shaft produced a flare of pleasure - Spock repeated the motion in a symmetrical fashion, establishing a comfortable rhythm. Exquisite, really, the wamth and throbbing in his mouth corresponding to the openness and sensory pulses of Jim's mind.

A modicum of experimentation was in order - Spock tested the effect of different strokes, varying the intensity and placement. Imploring mental need, a silent request, the man's hips began to sway as he started thrusting into Spock's mouth. Spock pulled his head back letting most of the penis out of his mouth - that was not the purpose of this. He closed his lips more securely around the head, running his tongue around the boundary. Just below the head his questing tongue found a slight difference in texture, he tested it with more pressure of his tongue. Rewarded by a burst of pleasure, Spock felt Jim's hands closing around his head.

The right palm cupped imploringly across his cheekbone; it was time to complete this and move to other pleasures. He pushed his head forward slightly and pulled at the man's hips. Yes, it was possible, Spock swallowed fractionally to press the bulbous head of the penis with his throat muscles. The burst of sensation radiating from the man was so intense that it threatened Spock's control, he repeated the caress with his throat muscles, once, twice, a third time and Jim exploded into a bizarrely swift completion. The human body shook, convulsed, Spock felt the leg muscles spasm and shifted his hold to support. The crescendo of mental pleasure, gratitude, absolute attention waned with the jerking of the muscles. Unfortunately, the man's spurts had come too far back in his throat for Spock to sample the fluid. Another time, he thought philosophically, and slowly released Jim's penis.

He was essentially holding Jim's panting body upright. Not unpleasing, and not too great a strain. Spock rested his head against the stomach and watched as the human's erection dwindled with surprising speed. Jim's entire body seemed damp. Spock licked absently at the moisture covering the stomach muscles. The small hairs were perceptible under his tongue. First numbness, then a sense of peace; the human was astoundingly open to him now. Spock touched his mind gently, not to disturb or arouse but to reassure. The hand cupping his head moved slightly in response. This sudden peace and complete lack of opposition were gratifying and unexpected.

Jim was fatigued. Spock shifted his hold; pulling his head away from its resting-place, he gently guided Jim down. They ended with Jim half-kneeling, his legs straddled over Spock's. Flushed, perspiring, and panting, Jim regarded Spock through half-closed eyes. "Computer, lower temperature ten degrees." Spock considered a better disposition of resources....

"Jim, you require rest, " Spock told him firmly. "You will stay with me tonight." Still no verbal answer. Spock touched his mind with a mental suggestion. Jim responded slowly but cooperatively, and Spock managed to arrange them both so the human was sitting between Spock's legs with his back pressed against Spock's chest. After a moment the damp head settled back against his shoulder.

"You did it wrong." With these words Spock's t'hy'la drifted into apparent sleep. Indeed, judging by results Spock had 'done it' quite effectively. Clearly exhaustion had overwhelmed his human's mental faculties. Aside from a slight cinnamon-scented stickiness on his cheek Spock was quite comfortable. The complete lack of tension in Jim's muscles had communicated itself to his own body; Spock occupied himself with a review and catalog of the sensory data derived from this sensual experiment. It was, he reflected idly, perhaps the most successful initial protocol of his lifetime. Logically, however, there was always room for improvement.

Five minutes later Jim announced his return to consciousness with a slow sensuous rubbing of his head against Spock's lower face. Surprised and pleased - his sehlat had used almost the same gesture to convey his pleasure and acceptance when Spock returned from an absence - Spock stroked Jim's right pectoral with his fingertips.

"That's supposed to be submissive - not an act of domination." Jim's husky voice conveyed inquiry instead of argumentativeness; apparently even his vocal cords were relaxed. Spock was honestly puzzled as to the opinion expressed.

"I do not comprehend. I took your pleasure and provoked your loss of control without losing mine; in what sense could this act ever be construed as submissive?" A thoughtful silence, then "Well, after we do it a couple of hundred times I might be able to explain it better. Are you going to try to win every argument that way?"

Spock felt his eyebrow elevate somewhat. He studied the sprawl of Jim's legs, the flaccid penis emerging from a tangled mat of pubic hair. His state of disarray was obviously not a concern to the human. "Certainly it makes you more contemplative." The tremors in Jim's body startled Spock initially; the amusement spreading into his mind from the human's indicated silent laughter.

"You still owe me a kiss, Spock. We've established that it works for me but not that it works for you. Further testing is required."

"If 'it did not work for me', we would not be able to have this conversation. I believe that the activity we have just completed qualifies as a kiss. Certainly I contacted your body with the mucosal membrane transition regions of my face."

"Your lips, you mean? That was not a kiss. That, Spock, was an indisputable blowjob." The human's voice was husky but firm. "And you did not 'contact my body', you contacted my dick, my cock, Jim prime. Although licking the sweat off my stomach was a nice touch. Kinky, Spock." Judging from his mental state, Jim was expressing satisfied admiration. Spock decided no real conflict was being addressed. It was a matter of semantics and thus not susceptible to logical analysis.

"Our position is not conducive - are you able to rise?" Jim responded by flexing his legs and arching his back. "Can do!" He pushed off Spock's chest and climbed to his feet, raising his arms in a lazy stretch. Spock examined the play of muscles across the back and shoulders as he rose in turn. An extremely attractive sight - the doctor's despised dietary regimen was effective. Jim turned to face Spock, still unconcerned about his state of exposure.

With a calm movement Jim settled his hand around the back of Spock's neck and brought their lips together. The touch of Jim's mouth against his own was gentle and faintly inquiring. Spock reached curiously for Jim's mind and realized that he was not thinking at all, unless complete concentration on physical sensation could be qualified as thought. Spock followed suit.

The brush of lips against his, an irregular pressure against the corner of Spock's mouth. The tongue came into play, running in little jabbing motions across the seam of Spock's lips. The pressure shifted into a sucking sensation. The human had succeeded in securing a segment of Spock's lower lip and was nibbling at it. Now a strong pressure, and Jim's mouth opened taking Spock's with it. By a natural progression a tongue entered Spock's mouth and began to stroke, assess and taste.

After an interval of silent cooperation Spock found himself interested and copied the strategy. The human's mouth was very moist, the tongue slid roughly against his. Spock traced the flavor of cinnamon, exploring the different textures of the teeth and tissues. The upper arch of the oral cavity was hard; Spock pressed his tongue against it and was able to discern a faint ridged configuration. With scientific interest Spock inventoried teeth, the cavity under the tongue - an interesting membrane found there. Finally a pull at the back of his neck asked for restraint. Jim pulled his head back against Spock's hand. It had apparently wandered there quite spontaneously. Their mouths separated.

Jim took a deep breath, and smiled intensely into Spock's eyes "It works! You are officially out of check, Mister." The thought was apparently highly pleasing to him. Spock became aware of a surprising degree of arousal. There had been a fundamental design error in his previous experiment. A cinnamon cookie and the mere proximity of another had no aphrodisiac qualities. The taste of cinnamon in Jim's mouth appeared to function as a very effective aphrodisiac.

"This - is going to be great." Jim's words were complemented by a mental message of extreme satisfaction.

"Inarguable," Spock responded. Jim did have moments in which his logic could not be faulted.

End